At the end of a summer in which the entire world grappled with the legacy of racism, scholar Robbie Shilliam and HLS Assistant Dean Shruti Rana discussed how Black civil rights are far more than a domestic issue. Now available on HLS’s Facebook page, the vibrant conversation put Black Lives Matter in the historical and political context of colonialism and the global struggle for freedom.
Shilliam, a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, started by examining his recent article in Foreign Policy that pushed strongly against the idea that Black freedom is a domestic civil rights issue rather than an international human rights issue.
“There’s never been a time where race has not been seen fundamentally as consequential to international relations by people who occupy administrations and executive and legislative branches,” Shilliam said.
The wide-ranging dialogue covered the history of race as a concept in Europe, the connection between the Atlantic slave trade and contemporary debates in political and academic circles, and the role of language and storytelling in how power operates.
Only by exploring Black freedom as a global issue, Shilliam argued, can we make sense of why the Black Lives Matter movement has resonated around the world, with protests everywhere from the United States to the UK to France to New Zealand. By expanding and contextualizing the concept of race, Shilliam connected Black Lives Matter to topics as varied as Kant’s concept of rights and the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.
“Organizing your politics as if some people are disposable is not just the provenance of white administrations,” Shilliam argued, pointing to an overarching “colonial logic” regarding how power is deployed to oppress and control others.
“When we are looking at [power] both in terms of a historical scope and a geographical breadth, we have to think fundamentally about the principles and the logics of the rule rather than only arrest our investigation by looking at the faces and the people who are doing it,” Shilliam added.
After the discussion, members of the community and students in Black Lives Matter as a Global Movement had the opportunity to ask questions about language, reparations, and careers in international relations. Shilliam also built a critique of the media’s coverage of Black Lives Matter, pointing to how images in particular focus on the subjugation and death of Black people and rioting, rather than encompassing the entire movement.
The field of international relations is a dynamic, changing field, and Shilliam argued that it must take into account the history of racism if it is to be truly comprehensive. Many faculty are taking up this mantle, and many students are demanding it.
Building off the previous installment in the series, Shilliam’s arguments got the audience thinking about and debating the international aspects of domestic politics. This series, which centers race, racism, and gender in the field of international relations, will continue over the course of the semester, so check our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for updates, as well as the #GETHLS hub.